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High Five: Hugh Freeze

imagesHigh Five is a post this week wrapping up, in five nuggets, each coach’s address to reporters during his time at the podium at SEC media days.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has QB Bo Wallace returning in 2014, and he’ll be hoping to finally make an impact in the SEC West.

Here’s his High Five:

  • Freeze’s progression as Ole Miss’ head coach has been steady – the Rebels have improved one game every season since his arrival. That being said, Freeze wanted to have reached a bowl game by this point. “To be very candid, I think the journey that we’ve been on, I think it’s faster than I thought possible,” Freeze. “When I first arrived there, I really thought we would be going to hopefully a bowl game in year three.  We were able to do that in year one and two, and win both of them.”
  • The Rebels will open the season playing in two NFL stadiums, the Georgia Dome and LP Field (Nashville, Tenn.). Freeze said it was an honor for his squad to be able to play on the big stage not once, but twice.  I think opening up in the Chick‑Fil‑A game in Atlanta where we recruit extremely hard, playing in the Georgia Dome where every SEC team wants to end their season, I think it’s very important. We get to open college football.”
  • Of all the SEC passing leaders who left for the NFL draft, one remained in 2014. Bo Wallace heads into his senior season after throwing for 3346 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, and he’s currently among the front-runners to be a conference First-Team selection. “He’s just been overshadowed by some really good players,” Freeze said. “Continue to cut down on his turnovers, make sure he’s making smart plays most of the time. The guy has a chance to own every passing record in Ole Miss history before he leaves there.”
  • Freeze also mentioned how he’ll be looking for an improvement in the pass rush when the squad opens up on Aug. 28 against Boise State.  “Getting C.J. Johnson back helps us.  When we lost him, it certainly changed us some,” Freeze said. “Marquis Haynes I’m really excited about also. But you’ve got to have some speed guys that can give you some great rush in this league.”
  • On a lighter note, Freeze mentioned a certain bet between himself, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. The SEC trio met on a golf course for a speedy, but costly round. We played in under three hours,” Freeze said. “My hair is quite shorter than normal today.  Spurrier takes credit for that.  If he won our match, come to Media Day, you had to buzz cut your hair, so that’s why my hair is so short today.”

High Five: Mark Richt

imagesHigh Five is a post this week wrapping up, in five nuggets, each coach’s address to reporters during his time at the podium at SEC media days.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt won’t have QB Aaron Murray anymore, but he’ll still have his fair share of offensive weapons in his arsenal.

Here’s his High Five:

  • Offensively, Georgia may still have RB Todd Gurley on the roster, but it will be without its former star quarterback, Aaron Murray. Murray, who passed for 3075 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for 186 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, was a leader both on the field and in the locker room during his tenure with the Bulldogs. That being said, head coach Mark Richt isn’t worried about the potential drop off in production. “The blessing for us is Hutson Mason being in the program going into his fifth season, a guy that got to watch Aaron’s work ethic, to see how he ran the off‑season program, how he would organize pass skeleton and those types of things,” Richt said. “Just the fact that Hutson has the respect of his teammates, the confidence of his teammates and coaches, to take on that leadership role.”
  • Back to Mason, Richt said he was never worried about losing the fifth-year senior, and he was more than happy to hear about his return to the program in 2014. “As we just went through the process of what it might look like, as we get to this point now, at one time when he was deciding should [Mason] stay, should he go, Murray could have left after his junior year, given him two years a start,” Richt said.  “That was a possibility.”
  • With the number of stud quarterbacks that left the SEC during the offseason, many wonder how the position will perform overall on each respective squad. Richt said he’s excited about the new names that could spring up throughout the upcoming year. “I wouldn’t count out the quarterbacks in this league to play great,” Richt said. “It’s an unknown quantity of guys.  You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with these guys.  I wouldn’t say that the quarterback play is going to be down.  We’ll just have to wait and see.”
  • Though Richt doesn’t support a league-wide drug policy, Georgia has been known as one of the tougher enforcers in the conference. Richt said there’s a reason why he’s strict with his players.  “We don’t want our guys to do drugs, okay?  I don’t want my son to do drugs,” Richt said. “We’ve got policies that are stronger maybe than some when it comes to the punitive part of it.”
  • Richt also spoke about Tray Matthews, the Bulldogs’ former safety who was dismissed from the team in June and transferred to Auburn. “Life’s too short.  They’re young men that make mistakes,” Richt said. “If somewhere along the way you learn from your mistake, you turn it around, finish your career strong, I’m happy for the guy.”

 

Magee on Doak Walker Award watch list

Terrence Magee is LSU's top returning running back.

Terrence Magee is LSU’s top returning running back.

Leonard Fournette hasn’t completely overshadowed things.

LSU running back Terrence Magee on Thursday was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list, an award that honors the best running back in the nation.

Given annually since 1989, the award’s watch list includes 53 players. Boston College’s Andre Williams won it last season.

Magee, a senior from Franklinton, is LSU’s top returning tailback. He ran for 626 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, backing up starter Jeremy Hill.

Magee is expected to compete with Kenny Hilliard and Fournette, a true freshman, for the lead role at the position. Fournette was rated the No. 1 recruit in the nation.

All-SEC and SEC predicted order of finish

HOOVER, Ala. - Left tackle La’el Collins earned a first team All-SEC selection while LSU was picked to finish fifth overall in the SEC and third in the SEC West in media voting released Thursday at SEC media days.

The Tigers had nine other players make  All-SEC second or third teams team. Here’s the full list below and the predicted order of finish:

All-SEC

  • First team: LT La’el Collins
  • Second tream: LG Vadal Alexander, CB Tre’Davious White, K Colby Delahoussaye, RB Terrence Magee (special teams)
  • Third: P Jamie Keehn, Jemauria Rasco, LB Kwon Alexander, DB Corey Thompson, CB Rashard Robinson

SEC champion predicted order

  • 1 Alabama 154 votes
  • 2 Auburn 75
  • 3 South Carolina 32
  • 4 Georgia 19
  • 5 LSU 9
  • 6 Ole Miss 2
  • 7 Arkansas 1
  • 8 Mississippi State 1

SEC West predicted order

  • 1 Alabama 1,915 points
  • 2 Auburn 1,735
  • 3 LSU 1,453
  • 4 Ole Miss 1,069
  • 5 Mississippi State 890
  • 6 Texas A&M 791
  • 7 Arkansas 351

High Five: Bret Bielema

Bret Bielema finished 0-8 in SEC play last season.

Bret Bielema finished 0-8 in SEC play last season.

High Five is a post this week wrapping up, in five nuggets, each coach’s address to reporters during his time at the podium at SEC media days.

Following a 3-9 campaign, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is still looking for his first SEC win since joining the conference.

Here’s his High Five:

  • Bret Bielema has an uphill climb of epic proportions – his squad is coming off a season where it failed to collect a victory in conference play. Now, Bielema has to find a way to bring his players together in the next month leading up to the season opener at Auburn on Aug. 30. It’s taken plenty of work, and he’s still getting to know his players at their core levels. Bielema said one disadvantage he had early in his career at Arkansas was that he didn’t recruit a number of the faces he saw every day at practice. One of the young men whose home he did visit, senior defensive end Trey Flowers, will return for his final year as a member of the Razorbacks. “I didn’t get to go into the home of every young man on our team,” Bielema said. “I think you learn a lot about a kid when you recruit him when he’s 16, 17, 18-years-old. You find out what made him who he is.”
  • Arkansas had two opportunities late during the 2013 campaign to pull out SEC wins, including an overtime loss to Mississippi State and a last-second defeat in Tiger Stadium as LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings fired a pass to wide receiver Travin Dural down the sidelines for a game-winning touchdown. Bielema said he’s still working on drilling certain ideas into his players’ heads. “I think the first thing that I have to make our players understand, and our coaches, every game is won or lost, but a lot of teams lose the game before they win it,” Bielema said. “I mean that.  If you don’t understand it, it’s probably why you don’t coach.”
  • Bielema shared his thoughts on the new rivalry between Arkansas and Missouri, as both teams will play each other every season from here on out. “It is, it is what it is,” Bielema said. “I think the part I really believe in is no matter what the situation is, you wrap your arms around it, kiss it, hug it, make it great.”
  • Also, considering 2013 was Bielema’s first year coaching in the SEC, he said he learned plenty from his experience. “You know, I think the biggest thing I took away, especially after the season, is you have to be true to who you are, what you’ve been,” Bielema said. “Don’t flinch.”
  • Arkansas opens up with quite the challenge – they battle a squad that appeared in the national title game last season. That being said, Auburn may be without quarterback Nick Marshall following his recent citation, but Bielema is confident the Tigers’ passer will be on the field on Aug. 30.  “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Nick and what he did as a quarterback, grew every game,” Bielema said. “To see him play in the championship game, I think knowing what I know as a head coach, Nick will be there.”

High Five: Les Miles

Les Miles has several position battles to watch over the next month.

Les Miles has several position battles to watch over the next month.

High Five is a post this week wrapping up, in five nuggets, each coach’s address to reporters during his time at the podium at SEC media days.

Les Miles will have a number of evaluations to make over the next month, especially at quarterback and along his defensive line.

Here’s his High Five:

  • There seems to be a recurring theme at LSU – players come for three years, and then they take their ticket to the NFL. In the last two seasons alone, the Tigers have lost 18 juniors to the NFL draft. “Yeah, we’d like to have those guys back,” Miles said. “I keep approaching the NFL on an opportunity for us to draft back some of our players that they take.” That being said, Miles said it all falls on solid recruiting year-after-year to keep his program in contention. “We have to make sure that our style of recruiting is the style of recruiting that we get an athlete that has a want to be something special, then that guy steps in and plays as a true freshman.”
  • One of the hot topics of LSU’s offseason was the acquisition of five-star prospect Leonard Fournette. Fournette, who is a New Orleans native, was touted as the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2014 class. Miles spoke highly of his new offensive weapon. “I think it’s exactly where he needs to be,” Miles said. “He expects himself to be something very special.  I think if you look at Michael Jordan, he could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting him to be better than any.”
  • With that, Miles also has had to answer his share of questions about his quarterback situation, considering sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris will be battling for the starting job throughout fall camp. Miles praised Harris’ dual-threat ability. “Well, the key piece is he really throws the ball well. I mean, he is a guy that has real strength. He’s innately accurate. He’s got great footwork. He can extend a play, get out of the pocket, move around.”
  • Even among the serious business, the usually quirky Miles took some time to talk about his recent trip to Austin, Texas.  “It was not a beach,” Miles said. There was no hotel that I walked out and jumped into the surf,” Miles said. “But the great news is, as a family, we did some things we never would have done.”
  • LSU lost both Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson on the defensive line to the NFL draft, but Miles said there are players on his roster who can step in and be leaders in the trenches. Miles said junior Quentin Thomas matured over the past year, and Christian LaCouture could be a force in 2014. “Christian LaCouture we would expect to be a starter for us inside, has had a great spring, played significantly in the fall, and really we would expect that he would be a guy that would step right in there,” Miles said.

Les Miles: Fournette compares to Michael Jordan

Les Miles speaks to the media before SEC media days.

Les Miles speaks to the media before SEC media days.

Prior to stepping into the main media room on Wednesday at SEC media days, LSU coach Les Miles could be found signing footballs just one floor above.

Miles raved about some of his incoming freshmen.

“There’s been a real nice review of the freshman receivers,” Miles said. “It appears to me that Trey Quinn is an advanced young freshman. Malachi Dupre is naturally talented.”

One key question mark heading into 2014 is the quarterback position, as two dual-threat passers will battle for the starting spot starting on Aug. 4, the first day of fall camp.

“I think both of our quarterbacks, Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings, have progressed. I also know that their progression will take place, too, in drills that are emphasized where the skill of putting the ball in play… will be pressed into a very competitive drill where those guys are going to have to exhibit other things than just throwing the ball well.”

Defensively, Miles spoke highly of defensive backs Jamal Adams, John Battle and Ed Paris, all incoming freshmen.

Lastly, Miles made a comparison between freshman Leonard Fournette and a certain famous basketball player.

“He’s got speed, size and strength, he’s goal oriented and he expects more of himself,” Miles said. “Michael Jordan was not coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan expected himself to do something special. That’s the kind of player Leonard Fournette is. He’s been quiet and he’s been working in the classroom and in the weight room. It’s just how he should approach it.”

Other notes:

  • Miles mentioned Corey Thompson at safety is coming off  injury. Jamal Adams and John Battle are guys who could play “significant roles.”
  • Miles on defensive end, mentions Hunter and Rasco as “two of the finest in the country.”
  • Miles: “Trey Quinn continues to be reviewed by our players as a guy with experience and great ball skills.”
  • Miles lists Fournette, Harris, Dupre and Clifton Garrett as four freshmen “to have great impact on this season.”

High Five: Gary Pinkel

Pinkel looks to return to the SEC Championship game in 2014.

Pinkel looks to return to the SEC Championship game in 2014.

High Five is a post this week wrapping up, in five nuggets, each coach’s address to reporters during his time at the podium at SEC media days.

After falling short in the SEC Championship last season, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel will look to redshirt sophomore QB Maty Mauk to carry the Tigers back to a title game appearance.

Here’s Pinkel’s High Five:

  • Pinkel was instantly hit with a question about sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk and how his limited experience from 2013 will affect his confidence heading into the season. “That experience helped him tremendously,” Pinkel said. “I think our players have tremendous confidence in him.” Mauk threw for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns while also rushing for 229 yards and a touchdown last year.
  • After losing two defensive ends to the NFL draft, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, Pinkel will have some serious evaluating to perform over the next month prior to the season opener. Pinkel said redshirt junior Shane Ray and redshirt senior Markus Golden could be the next in lie to make a serious impact on the defensive line. “Shane Ray and Markus Golden both played at a high level a year ago while alternating with Michael Sam and Kony Ealy,” Pinkel said. “I wish I had that depth at every position.”
  • On Jan. 11, 2014, former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was arrested on “suspicion of drug activity.” It was his second drug-related incident, and as a result, he was dismissed from the Missouri football program before eventually enrolling at Oklahoma. In 2013, Green-Beckham made 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns. Now in 2014, Pinkel’s sophomore quarterback won’t have his 6-foot-6, 225-pound target. “We lost a really great player,” Pinkel said.  “I wish Dorial the best.”
  • Back to Mauk, Pinkel continued to praise his young quarterback, saying he will be someone his players will happily follow into battle. “I think he’s a very natural leader,” Pinkel said. “He was one of those guys that loves to play football, and he loves to compete. His leadership is very non-threatening, too.”
  • Last season, Missouri had a turnover margin of 16, which ranked first in the SEC. Pinkel said the goal is to repeat that success in 2014. “Our goal is to be in the top 10 in the nation in turnover margin every year,” Pinkel said. “We don’t do national goals at all, but that’s one we have.”

 

The Changes: Rules talk at SEC media days

Steve Shaw is the head of officials.

Steve Shaw is the head of officials.

This is an off year for rule changes. Rules are in place in a two-year cycle. Still, for safety purposes there were some minor changes, said SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw:

  • Before we get to rule changes, Shaw addressed the targeting-disqualification rule implemented last season. You remember – when a player targets an opponent in the head and is ejected and then suspended for the next half of football. Shaw says the rule did exactly what the league wanted – it decreased targeting. There were 14 targeting fouls in the first eight weeks of the season and just five fouls in the final few weeks of the year. “That’s a significant reduction,” Shaw said.
  • About that targeting rule … This year, when a targeting foul is overturned on replay, the 15-yard penalty will not be marked off. Before, when targeting calls were overturned, the 15-yarder was still marked off (of note: if a targeting foul is group with another foul – roughing the passer, roughing the kicker – the 15 yards will be marked off no matter what).
  • The second major change deals with quarterback safety. If a defender – under his own power and not pushed – goes low on a quarterback in a passing posture, it’s a 15-yard flag. There is a strike zone of sorts for a QB, Shaw said. It’s between the knee and below the neck.
  • If a team comes out in jerseys where numerals are not in contrast to jersey color, it is charged a timeout at the start of each quarter. “We’re trying to ensure you can read the numbers, the coloring is proper,” Shaw said.
  • There are a few changes to instant replay as well:
  1. The location of a passer during intentional grounding while in the end zone (a safety) is now reviewable.
  2. The catch or recovery of a fumble is now reviewable.
  • One SEC crew this season will use an extra official (so, eight) in experimentation. This stems from the hurry-up offenses and could help an officiating crew better prepared for quick snaps. The new eighth official is a “center judge.”

High Five: Butch Jones

imagesTennessee coach Butch Jones will have plenty of rebuilding to do between now and his squad’s opener on Aug. 31.

Here’s his High Five:

  • Jones opened his press conference on Tuesday afternoon by highlighting one of Tennessee’s major concerns going into the 2014 campaign. “We’re the only school in the country that has to replace both starting interior lines,” Jones said. Six of the Volunteers’ starting front seven from last season will need to be replaced before the Volunteers open the season against Utah State on Aug. 31.
  • Curt Maggitt will make his triumphant return to the field in 2014 after missing all of last season with an ACL injury. The former middle linebacker will transition to the defensive line, providing a veteran presence on the interior defense. “He is the leader of our football team, and he was the leader last year,” Jones said. “Being able to get him back on the grass for our football team, he’s going to be a presence.”
  • Jones often preached “the power of one.”  “Being so young, we have to focus on the moment,” Jones said. “We have to win one moment at a time, one play at a time, one practice at a time, one day at a time, have one unity and purpose, have one common commitment and one mindset.”
  • Tennessee has built its share of rivals throughout the SEC over the years, and Jones wanted to make sure he had players who were well aware of the meaning of certain conference matchups. “We have six legacy players whose father played at the University of Tennessee and were great players,” Jones said. “This is a class that wanted to be at the University of Tennessee, and they take great pride on having that upon their shoulders and getting Tennessee football back to its rightful place among the elite of college football.”
  • Along with getting Maggitt back, Tennessee will also see senior linebacker A.J. Johnson return to Nashville, Tenn. Johnson turned down the 2014 NFL draft, and he’ll be back to help a Volunteer defense that ranked No. 84 in the nation last season. “We’re excited to have A.J. back,” Jones said. “He’s the quarterback of our defense. He wants to get a college degree, and the NFL will be there for him.”